Mashiko is home to a mere 20,000 people, but its influence in the world of pottery belies its size. Known as Mashiko-yaki, Mashiko ware pottery got its start here in the 19th century and fuelled an explosion of local creativity that's taken the town all the way to the international stage.
The following routes assume you're using the Shinkansen. Local trains will also get you there, but will take longer.
Coming by train:
Take the Shinkansen on the JR Utsunomiya Line from either Tokyo Station or Ueno station to Oyama Station in Tochigi
Change at Oyama for the Mito line going towards Mito
Get off at Shimodate Station and change to the Moka Tetsudo line going towards Motegi
The 10th stop is Mashiko Station
Coming by train and bus:
Take the Shinkansen on the JR Utsunomiya Line from either Tokyo Station or Ueno station to reach Utsunomiya Station in Tochigi
At Utsunomiya Station, take the Toya Bus from bus stand #14 towards Mashiko Station. Bus stops are located at Mashiko Station's west entrance.
Mashiko-yaki is distinguished by its rustic appearance. Fitting the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi simplicity, its popularity began in the 19th century for being attractive, yet practical. The pottery was mostly used as kitchenware at the time.
Today, the allure of Mashiko's pottery attracts buyers from around the globe and places in art collections, including that the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art.
In modern Japanese, the German word "messe," meaning a "trade fair," has also come to be used for certain kinds of theme parks.
Ceramic Art Messe Mashiko houses a variety of earthenware related facilities, with the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art as its centerpiece. Originally, the museum focused exclusively on Mashiko-yaki. Recently it has begun to display modern ceramic work from overseas as well.
Famed artisan Shoji Hamada established a studio in Mashiko in the early 1900s after discovering how wonderful its soil was for pottery. His house and workshop have been relocated to Ceramic Art Messe, as have his kilns that were built based on ancient designs.
Hamada's work was at the center of the Japanese art world's Mingei Movement. Mingei art fuses beauty with practicality by popularizing ordinary artisanal styles. With Hamada's presence, Mashiko evolved into a world capital of earthenware.
Mashiko hosts two pottery fairs every year, one during Japan's Golden Week Holiday at the end of April and early May, and another in early November. The whole town hosts the event, but most shops and tents set up along Jonaizaka, the main street. Opportunities to purchase Mashiko-yaki abound.
Besides its pottery culture, Mashiko is also home to some beautiful classical architecture. Saimoyoji Temple is on the slopes of Mt. Takadate. Its three-story pagoda was built in the 16th century and is one of the oldest pavilions in eastern Japan.
Mashiko offers free tours of the city to groups of 10 to 40 on weekends and holidays outside the New Year period. Tours offer extensive sightseeing, including significant pottery spots, traditional buildings, and beautiful natural scenery.
While getting to Mashiko, many travelers come via Utsunomiya, Japan's self-proclaimed gyoza capital. Take some time while there to feast on the incredible variety of gyoza.